How to Write a Complete Direct Mail Package, Piece-by-Piece

Direct mail is a wide-open marketing medium. By that, I mean you don’t have the format limitations of other traditional media, such as print ads or radio spots.

Assuming you comply with basic USPS guidelines, you can create and mail just about anything, including as much information as you need.

However, creating a mailer can be a daunting task if you don’t have years of experience, so let’s take a quick look at the basics of writing and designing the granddaddy of all direct mail formats, the “classic” direct mail envelope package.

The underlying secret to this format is the principle of “divide and conquer.” That means when you’re creating a direct mail package, you should understand the purpose of each element and allow that element to do its particular job.

Outer Envelope
This is the distinctive feature of any direct mail package: an envelope that carries all the other elements through the mail. It’s called the “outer envelope” or OE to distinguish it from the “reply envelope.”

The appearance of the OE can be anywhere on a scale from plain, with little or no copy or graphics, to bold, with lots of teaser copy and images. Plain or bold is a strategic choice based on what you believe will get the most people to open the envelope and read the contents.

If you have a highly desirable product or service, and you’re sure the mailing list includes your ideal prospects, bold is a great way to go. Teaser copy and graphics can get people interested right away and set them up for the sales pitch inside.

But if you have any doubts about the product, the right thing to say or show, or your mailing list, it’s often a good idea to use a plain envelope. While it doesn’t help your sales pitch, it doesn’t hurt it either. And because it gives no clue about the contents, people have to open it to see what it’s about.

Envelopes come in a range of standard sizes and can be custom manufactured to nearly any size within USPS specifications. They can also be made from various types and colors of paper or other materials and can have one or more windows or be closed faced.

This is the heart of any direct mail package. My personal rule is that if you have an outer envelope, you MUST include a letter. The letter is your voice. This is where you speak directly to your prospect, one-on-one, and present your offer.

As with any other element of a direct mail package, you can illustrate your letter and make it as colorful as you wish. However, in most cases, it’s better to make the letter look like a standard letter without too many bells and whistles.

Writing letters is something of an art form, so there is no set formula. Master copywriters often do their best work when they break the rules. But there is a certain structure that most letters follow:

  • Headline or “Johnson Box”
  • Salutation, such as Dear Friend, Dear Joe, or Dear Cat Lover
  • Short, attention-grabbing first sentence
  • Body copy that tells a story, presents a problem and solution, and/or presents your offer, along with benefits and details
  • Call to action or CTA, such as “Call 1-800-123-4567 to order now” or “Visit to download your free trial today”
  • Guarantee to back up your offer
  • Deadline (if appropriate) to prompt faster response
  • Sign off with a handwritten signature
  • P.S. or Post Script that presents a prime benefit, restatement of the offer, deadline reminder, bonus offer, or whatever you want to highlight

This is an optional component. I say it’s optional because, often, your direct mail package can work as well or better without it, depending on circumstances.